A long story to motivate others
Greetings fellow WSO members,
we are living in tough times. Many of you are probably running into a lot of resistance in recruiting. I don't like talking about myself too much; I also do not think that my story is as interesting as many of yours, because, frankly speaking, I didn't achieve as much as many of you did, in terms of status and position. But as long as this text has a shot at motivating someone to keep on going it is worth it. I know that this text is "tl;dr" for a lot of people, but I hope that this will keep the semi-desperate from reading it and save them time, which they may use more effectively for pursuing their dreams or working on another (Excel-)model .
Beginning such a motivational piece is rather difficult for me, but the most appropriate time frame would probably be to start telling my story from 7 years ago. I was 15 at that time and to cut a long case short socially worth less than scum, but more than earth: I wasn't the most extroverted person to begin with. Never have been, never will be. My brother has some form of high functioning autism that prevents him from being very sociable; he is older than me, which is the reason why I used to be known as "XYZ's brother" at my small high school (300 students). Trust me it wasn't helping at all. Mathematics, physics and the sciences were a lose-lose-situation. No matter what I did I was always told that we were from the same family, but I wasn't the brightest offspring.
My parents were getting divorced at this time and things were getting worse by every standard. I completely lost my self-confidence, not only because of my parents, but also because of classmates. The four people, which I spent the most time with back then, started beating me up in school. I was fat, I didn't have anything. My father didn't laugh that often, but it cracked him up for 5 minutes when I told him that I wanted to start playing basketball. My mother cried herself to sleep at night for a good year. I tried to help her, but I couldn't. To top things off, my grandmother, who was the only person that still displayed affection towards me, died of stomach cancer. I remember sitting at a railway track and thinking to myself that I have exactly no one and nothing to begin with. I played with the thought of suicide, as many teenagers do, but loyalty to my mother prevented me from even attempting it. I knew that she wouldn't survive it; maybe physically, but not emotionally. School couldn't boost my confidence either, because I had a lousy 2.3 GPA in European standards.
Now please don't get me wrong, this is not even a "from Bronx to Wall Street" story. I always had food, I am not from a minority and there were simply no gangs that would have taken me as a member. Even back then I knew that there were people worse off. Heck, I wasn't even physically abused. The only problem was that I had a narcissistic father, a co-dependent mother and a brother with high functioning autism. I didn't find a way to handle these problems. And people actually told me this, even without knowing my family. They said that I have no reason to complain; I was just deprived of all respect, had no self-esteem and my last sparkle of will was broken, whenever I dared to raise my voice. It was my fault, because I was weird and my treatment wasn't even that bad. They were right, but not in the way they thought: I wasn't the problem, but I was the solution.
I took inventory of myself at that time. I realized that, in our society, my grades could kick me out of the game forever. First they would deny me a good university; consequently, the lacking pedigree would make it difficult to find a good job. But this happened in Europe. We don't have SATs over here, final grades are more important. I was three years away from graduating and only the last two years are important in my country. The game wasn't over, so I decided to "bust my ass" instead of crying.
But that wasn't enough. I had to change in many more ways to have a shot at being happy. I started reading up on psychology, called up people to try to make friends. I constantly pushed myself out of my introversion and depression. I crashed and burned more often than I can possibly count. I started martial arts and by accident got a gym membership. I had class for 34h a week without including studying. I started training every day. Martial arts three times a week, two times running, three times gym. My physique was so miserable that I started off as the fat kid that would have problems with curling 9 pounds for more than 8 times. The martial art, which I practice, is similar to fencing. I was so bad that my trainer let me start all over again after the beginners course, because I ashamed him in front of his own teacher. Despite of this I attend summer camps, which included 6 hours of training, because I wanted so badly to toughen up mentally. I cannot tell you why, but I kept on going.
Three years forward is the first time for taking inventory and hopefully this may already help a few fellow monkeys to keep up the hard work: I graduated from high school with a ~3.8 GPA and distinction. I wasn't liked, because at times I didn't have the social fine tuning to make a distinction between being self-confident and being a douchebag. And frankly speaking I could forgive my classmates for what they did, but I will never be able to forget. I was respected enough to be asked to take over a team for a science project, because they didn't get anything done. We finished in two weeks, because I was driving them as hard as I was driving myself, which was probably a mistake. Our school received an award for the work; our work was just one piece of the puzzle, but it was essential.
I also did other things, which unintentionally offended people: I made an empirical test in my biology finals. I claimed that the test was "bullshit bingo", because the teachers would have to correct too many exams in too little time to read all them in detail. They would look for buzzwords. So I decided to learn the classics, such as DNA polymerase and helicase, without understanding what was really going on. Span some crap around it and cooked a nice 3.5, which put me in the top 5% of my district. My acquaintance, who did a 4.0 GPA and went to Oxford still hates me for showing him that his grades are a bad indication of intelligence. He mentions it every single time we meet.
I've also turned successful in my sports. It isn't as great an achievement as winning in a significant sport, but I was part of my clubs team that won the district championships. I hated competitions, because they were a bad yardstick for my success. A yardstick which is inferior to incremental improvement, because it neglects where somebody is coming from, but that is a subtlety that many people will never be able to understand.
It would be too much to claim that my fellow students liked me. I had made few good friends, but at the end of the day most people respected me, which is something completely different. When our commencement came up, the class best declined to hold the commencement speech, due to some random excuses about the election process. The classic "school speaker" kid excused himself by saying that he could speak, but couldn't add the necessary depth of thought. As a consequence, I was asked and I accepted. Not because I took pride in it, but because it was a challenge: I don't like putting myself in the open like this, especially not in front of 600 people. It was obvious that I would get very little sleep in the night before, but the fear was exactly the reason why I accepted. The content was okay, but I was getting nervous in the middle, so I went too fast. Happens.
I began trading up my successes, because my CV sucked, to speak frankly. No clubs, no leadership, nothing except for the history contest and my GPA. I applied for tier two universities in another European country and hedged myself against failure by applying to universities in my home country. I received an offer from a university with a program in English and accepted it, because I wanted to go abroad and improve my language skills. At this university, I drove myself even harder than before: I studied hard in order to get into honours tracks and joined student organizations, as an active member, in order to improve my social skills and get myself out of my introverted comfort zone.
Academics went great and socializing was okay, but I couldn't break into a job that would satisfy my need for understanding. I am the type of guy that lives for the "Eureka" in life. The moments when you see something, which intrigued you before, from a different angle and suddenly it makes sense. I don't mind social status, but my past experiences do not allow me to strive for it, because to me it was a mirage. It correlates with success, but that's about it. The problem is that most firms, which allow you to think that much, demand you to show status through your CV, because they have so many people to choose from and quite a bit of reputation to loose.
I got declined constantly for internship gigs, because I didn't know how to sell my academic track record without running into the "ivory tower trap of academics". I also applied for jobs which were out of reach, due to a lack of work experiences. In essence, I have gathered declines at various stages of the interview process from quite a few finance firms. Here WSO helped me to see mistakes and work on them, thank you guys.
Other dreams of mine were also nearly falling apart. I always wanted to go to Asia and live there in order to satisfy my curiosity and gain another perspective on life, society, etc. Bureaucratic problems made this almost impossible. I had given up on it already and was looking for an alternative. In my case I applied for off-cycle internships, which earned me even more downturns. Trust me being turned down by BB banks doesn't feel that bad. In the end, networking with the exchange universities study abroad program coordinator saved my exchange. And by now I am happy that I didn't get an internship offer, because I would have accepted it and missed out on a great experience: My family never travelled much, because there was not much money for luxuries like this. My flight to Asia was actually my third time on a plane. Hearing the pilot say "fasten your seatbelt" was probably one of the most incredible experiences of my last few years, because it meant that I made a dream happen by working hard at university and applying for scholarships. Living in Asia meant for me experiencing a hierarchical society, meeting great people, gaining a new perspective and seeing first hand that you can be happy without a high living standard. Therefore I believe it was worth more than an internship, at this point in time.
Recently, my socializing had an unintended side effect. When I was in Asia, a friend of mine told me that a financial services firm is looking for an off-cycle intern to support their division in the very beginning of 2012. I immediately asked him to forward my cv. Shortly afterwards I was put in contact with HR and survived the first round. Back in Europe, I also survived the second round and received an offer. It's not S&T or IB, but not back office either. I have no apartment in the relevant city; I will graduate a year later, because my university doesn't work with semesters and, as of yet, I have nothing for the second half of 2012. But I am sure that this was the best decision, because it allows me to die happily and say I tried everything I could even if that meant walking an inconvenient path.
If you've read this far, then I hope that you won't mind hearing a word or two about life from someone who is just in the beginning of his 20s. Someone who still has a lot to learn from this world: Running into resistance and getting rejected doesn't mean that you won't be as successful as others. The world provides examples. They are few, but they exist. Lloyd Blankfein didn't make it through the interview process of the very bank he is leading, if I am not mistaken. Anshu Jain, who heads DB, graduated from University of Massachusetts, which is not a "target", if I am correct. Those are clearly extreme cases, but there are many more, which we are not aware of. Not making it into one of the WSO classic prestige bunnies, such as "GS TMT" or "HBS", isn't the end of the world. It's not a problem if this hits you hard, it hits everyone. Shattered dreams are never nice, but they don't kill you. They may even help you in the future by making you aware that you had the "bad luck of having a good fortune". At the end of the day an old saying by one of the least understood scholars, Niccolò Machiavelli, holds true: "It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious."
Why did I write this? Because I am more of an average Joe than many WSO members are. I did not serve in the military; I didn't work myself up from a minority; heck I am not even successful by the high standards of this board. I respect those things a lot, but I am afraid that they make it difficult for others to relate on a personal basis and get motivated. I hope that my mediocrity makes it possible to motivate others on this board. Even if it is just one fellow monkey, who gets back on track and pursues his dreams it is well worth writing this article.
Thank you for reading, if you did it. Otherwise, yes this is "tl;dr" for you. Get over it.